Some of my most memorable, tasty meals have been in the country pubs of England and Scotland. Inside, the atmosphere is jovial, the room dim and smoke-filled (although now in some pubs, no smoking is the rule). It's a gathering place for young and old, male and female, where everyone is welcome.
Every village has at least one such pub with names like the Kopper Kettle and Sir Loin of Beef, designed to lure in locals and travelers. Many of these pubs -- "public houses" -- are centuries old.
At a time when most of their customers were unable to read, pictorial signs could be easily recognized. These symbols remain today and are part of the charm of the British countryside.
At lunch or dinner (as many Brits call lunch), these pubs are packed. Pints and hot pies are being served as fast as humanly possible -- with mustard pickles on the side, please!
On the menu are dishes such as traditional Shepherds Pie and Forfar Bridies, the latter a steak-and-onion-filled pastry originally made in the Scottish town of Forfar.
But contemporary chefs now offer "gastropub cuisine," attracting the career young who commute to work in nearby towns and cities.
The meats in Shepherds Pie may be marinated in beer and Forfar Bridies may include tomatoes and fresh herbs.
For my money, I'll bypass the trendy restaurants and eat every day at a local pub. A wedge of hot, savory pie, and a Shandy (lager beer and fizzy lemonade) is comfort food at its very best.
You don't have to be in the British countryside to duplicate such fare. Store-bought items, such as prepared pastry, frozen chopped vegetables and a combination of seasonings make short work of every recipe below.
Serve with a favorite beer and settle down to enjoy.
Beer Braised Shepherds Pie
1 and 1/2 lbs. (3 to 4 large) potatoes, scrubbed, peeled and cut in 1-inch chunks
2 Tbsps. vegetable margarine
2 Tbsps. vegetable oil
salt and freshly ground pepper to taste
1 and 1/2 lbs. ground lamb or lean ground beef
1/3 cup beer (may be flat)
1 medium onion, chopped or 1 cup frozen chopped onion
1 and 1/2 Tbsps. all-purpose flour
3 Tbsps. tomato catsup
1 cup thawed frozen peas and carrots
1/4 cup coarsely snipped fresh parsley, packed
Place the potatoes in a large saucepan. Pour enough water over to come about 1-inch above the potatoes. Stir in two teaspoons salt. Bring to a boil over high heat. Reduce heat to medium. Cook 12 to 15 minutes or until potatoes are tender. Do not overcook. Drain, reserving about 1/4 cup liquids.
Add the margarine and 2 tablespoons potato liquid to the well-drained potatoes. Mash until almost smooth, adding a little more liquid if needed. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Set aside.
Heat the oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat. Add the lamb or beef, beer and onion. Season with salt and pepper. Stir over high heat, crumbling any lumps of meat. Cook until no pink remains. Add the flour and cook for 1 to 2 minutes to thicken.
Stir in the catsup, peas, carrots and parsley. Spoon into a 5- to 6-cup ovenproof casserole. Spoon the potatoes over to cover the meat mixture, roughing up with a fork. Broil 8 inches from the heat until potatoes are nicely browned. Serve hot.
Serves 6 to 8.
Forfar Bridie for Two
1 baby carrot, grated coarsely
1/4 small white turnip, grated coarsely
1 scallion, thinly sliced
2 cherry tomatoes, quartered
1/4 tsp. minced garlic from a jar
1/2 tsp. barbecue seasoning or to taste
1 cup cooked brisket or roast beef, shredded
1/4 cup beef gravy
1 (9-inch) pie crust
1 egg, beaten
Preheat oven to 375°.
In a microwave-safe dish, place the carrot, turnip, scallion, tomatoes and garlic. Cook on high for 1 to 2 minutes or until the vegetables are soft. Add the barbecue seasoning, shredded brisket or roast beef and enough gravy to moisten.
Spoon the mixture onto the center of the pie crust. Brush the pie crust edges with beaten egg. Bring the edges up to center and pinch or crimp with a fork to seal. Brush with beaten egg. Make a 1/2-inch cut on top and place on a baking sheet. Bake in preheated oven for 20 minutes or until pastry is golden brown. Serve hot or warm.
Carrot and Onion Tart
1 sheet (half of 17-oz. package) frozen puff pastry, thawed
2 Tbsps. unsalted butter
1 Tbsp. extra virgin olive oil
2 lbs. sweet onions, thinly sliced
1 medium carrot, thinly sliced
1 Tbsp. frozen chopped chives
1/2 tsp. dried tarragon
2 Tbsps. heavy cream or plain yogurt
salt and freshly ground pepper
Preheat the oven to 400°.
Press the puff pastry sheet into a 10-inch pie dish bringing the pastry up the sides, folding over to fit. Prick all over with a fork. Bake for 8 minutes. Set aside.
In a large skillet, heat the butter and olive oil over medium heat. Add the onions, carrot and chives. Cook until softened, about 10 minutes. Do not brown. Reduce heat to simmer. Cook 15 minutes longer, stirring often, until onions are golden.
Add the tarragon the last 5 minutes of cooking. Cool slightly. Stir in the cream or yogurt and season to taste with salt and pepper. Spoon into the pie dish.
Bake for 10 to 15 minutes or until pastry is golden brown. Cut into wedges to serve.
Serves 6 to 8.
Toad in the Hole
It's suggested that the dish resemble a toad sticking it's head out of a hole -- thus the whimsical name. Serve for brunch, lunch or supper with a crisp green salad.
3 Tbsps. vegetable oil
1 package (14 oz.) tofu sausages, cut in half
1 cup milk (not low fat or skim)
1 cup all-purpose flour
1 Tbsp. vegetable oil
Preheat the oven to 425°.
Pour the oil into a 9-inch-square ovenproof casserole and arrange the sausages in one layer on top. Set aside.
Place all the remaining ingredients in a blender. Whirl at high speed for 15 seconds. Scrape down the sides to remove any unmixed flour. Whirl again for 20 seconds longer. Pour over the sausages.
Bake 15 minutes or until risen and edges are beginning to brown nicely.
Reduce heat to 350° and bake 25 minutes longer. If browning too quickly, place a sheet of aluminum foil loosely on top.
Serves 6 to 8.
Chicken Mushroom Pie
prepared pastry for a 2-crust 9-inch pie
1 Tbsp. vegetable oil
1 medium onion, chopped or 1 cup frozen chopped
1 package (8 oz.) sliced white mushrooms, washed and dried
3/4 tsp. chopped garlic from a jar
1 lb. ground chicken
3/4 tsp. salt
1/2 tsp. freshly ground pepper
pinch dried oregano
1 Tbsp. water
Preheat oven to 400°.
Line a 9-inch pie dish with one pastry crust. Set aside.
Heat the oil in a large skillet. Add the onion, mushrooms and garlic. Cook over medium heat until onion is softened. Stir in the chicken, cooking until all the pink has disappeared. Add the salt, pepper and oregano. Cool before spooning into the prepared pie dish
Whisk together the eggs and water and pour over the chicken mixture. Place the remaining pastry over and press to seal.
Cut three, 2-inch slits in top of crust. Bake for 25 minutes or until top is nicely browned. Cut into wedges and serve warm.
Serves 6 to 8.
Ethel G. Hofman is a past president of the International Association of Culinary Professionals. Email her at: [email protected] .